Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council offers Pasley post

The Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council has tapped a new executive director, about nine months after it fired its previous leader.

Board members voted Tuesday night to offer the job to James Pasley, the board's second choice of three finalists. They then went into what appeared to be an illegal closed executive session at which they discussed the stalled Choppee Head Start Center, among other things.

Efforts to reach Pasley, the brother of Williamsburg County Supervisor Stanley Pasley, on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

If he accepts the post, he will replace former executive director Beth Fryar. Columbus Stephens, Community Services Block Grant director for a community action agency in Greenwood and the board's first choice for that agency's new executive director, refused the job when it was offered to him.

They took the vote in public session after they voted to restore sections of the minutes from the Jan. 10 meeting that had been deleted improperly by a previous board vote.

Two of the parts of the Jan. 10 meeting minutes that were restored to its official record Tuesday dealt with the agency's prolonged search for an executive director and a vote to pursue the two remaining candidates rather than to start the process anew.

"We made a mistake," board secretary Jerry Harper said of the vote to strike the items from the minutes, "a big mistake."

Harper also urged the board to offer the executive director's job to someone during Tuesday night's meeting. He said that federal officials in Atlanta are watching what is happening on the Waccamaw EOC board and expect board members to straighten it out.

"You need as quick as you can to write a letter to Mr. Pasley and offer him that position," Harper said.

After the vote to do so, board chairman Zacharius Grate instructed the agency's staff to write a letter to federal authorities Wednesday to let them know the action had been taken.

Board members opposed an attempt by First Vice Chairman David Eagleton to restart the search process.

Eagleton said the board should have a process that would consider five candidates.

Eagleton, who presided at the Jan. 10 meeting in Grate's absence, and board member Tommy Mitchum voted against restoring the deleted items to the former meeting's minutes.

The board had to vote twice to fire Fryar because it did not follow its procedures for doing so the first time. The second time they voted, she was on leave under the Family Leave Act, which says it is illegal to fire anyone who is out of work under its provisions. Fryar has hired a lawyer.

Grate at first declined to say what the board talked about in Tuesday's executive session called for legal, contractual and personnel issues, but said when pressed that the Choppee Head Start Center was discussed.

Work was halted on the Head Start Center last month after federal authorities learned it was started before the agency had secured a loan to pay for the construction. The agency has tried unsuccessfully for at least 11/2 years to get that loan.

State law allows contractual discussions in closed sessions primarily for contract negotiations. It makes no provisions to discuss problems such as that facing the Choppee center behind closed doors.

The board also discussed the proper salary needed for an executive director, as was heard through the metal air grate at the bottom of the door behind which they were meeting. At one point in the executive session, Grate asked, "Who wants to go to this conference?"

The executive director's salary discussion would have been legal in a closed session only if board members were discussing a specific salary that would be offered to a specific candidate, such as Pasley. A general conversation about how much any executive director should be paid would not have been legal.

The law has no provisions for a closed session that would allow for discussion of board members' attendance at a conference.

Wilhelmina Whitfield, the agency's interim executive director, was concerned that people waiting in the hallway outside the meeting room would overhear what was being discussed.

She ordered a staff member to place a mini boom box on the hall floor to play country gospel music to drown out board members' voices some minutes after the closed session started.